[Monday Reading] Human Rights and a Filipina Maiden’s Courage in Thwarting The Devil in Children’s Picturebooks from the Philippines


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date).


For 2022, our reading theme is #DecolonizeBookshelves2022. Essentially, we hope to feature books that fit any of the following criteria:

  1. Postcolonial literature and/or [pre/post] revolutionary stories
  2. Stories by indigenous / first-nation peoples / people of colour
  3. Narratives of survival and healing, exile and migration, displacement and dispossession
  4. Books written or illustrated by people who have been colonized, oppressed, marginalized

A Bridge For Silay [Free download from CANVAS]

Written by Agay Llanera Illustrated by Ronson Culibrina
Published by CANVAS (2021)
ISBN: 9789719689317 Available for download from publisher’s website. Book photos taken by me.

Silay lives in an impoverished island and raised by a fisherman father. From the beginning of the story, she was described to be quite unique. She was deeply attuned to her environment and had the uncanny ability to commune with the rocks of the island – a skill which she kept to herself. She always wondered what it would be like if the rocks served as a bridge from her poor island to the city that is filled with buildings and possibilities.

Like so many Filipinos, the poor health of her father served as an impetus for her to work overseas, allowing her to:

“earn more – from cleaning, cooking, washing, and taking care of children who spoke a language she barely understood.”

This is not uncommon among Filipinos who serve as domestic helpers in so many households across the globe.

Needless to say, the art of Culibrina is rife with symbolism that is just begging to be discussed and explored beyond the narrative text. There is also a restraint and subtlety in the storytelling that I especially appreciated.

It took five years before Silay finally returned to her island province where a foreigner male visitor named Carlos seemed to have inhabited her home and was insidiously ingratiating himself into her good graces, and even asked her to marry him.

Silay responded by saying that island tradition requires suitors to “fulfil a task dictated by the woman he wishes to marry.” It was through this quest that the true nature of Carlos was revealed, which is typical of would-be colonizers who hold nothing but contempt towards people who are indigenous to a particular place:

The foolish natives don’t see how rich their island is! If I lived here, I would buy land, and sell them at a huge profit. I would sell their mountains, their trees, even their precious lake. I would sleep on a bed of paper bills instead of a squeaky couch in a miserable island house.

Apparently, this story is based on a legend of the Puente Del Diablo (Devil’s Bridge) among people who live on Talim Island, which is the largest lake island in Laguna Bay. As can be seen in the Afterword:

With its rocks seemingly fashioned into blocks shooting up twenty meters into the sky and reaching out a hundred meters into the water, Puente del Diablo looks like an unfinished stone bridge.

To this day, the remains of Puente del Diablo can be seen, a testament to a maiden’s courage and her success in thwarting the devil’s plans.

Here’s to women’s courage and their eventual success in thwarting the devil’s plans. We keep the faith, always.

The Weight Of Words: An Alphabet Of Human Rights (Free Download from CANVAS)

Reflections on human rights from 12 Filipino artists and graphic designers
Published by CANVAS (2017)
Available for download from publisher’s website. Book photos taken by me.

I was given a copy of this book by my artist friend, Daniel Palma Tayona, who served as an artist and designer for CANVAS. He passed away at the height of COVID-19 from another illness and is very deeply missed. I thought that today is the most appropriate time to finally feature this book he shared with me, May 09 being quite a pivotal moment in Philippine history.

This book was published at the height of Duterte’s presidency when human rights had been deemed as meaningless or irrelevant against the supposed “war on drugs” which was an excuse to rule with impunity and fear and to silence critics, effectively removing transparency and accountability in what I consider to be one of the darkest moments in Philippine history.

The state has justified its violence against its citizens by claiming that human rights is “a hindrance to progress, order, and the elimination of criminality.” As the Introduction further noted:

This book brings together professionals in the visual arts and graphic design industry, each of them choosing a letter or two to connect to a concept in human rights.

The hope is that, through these letters, words and art, the universal truths about human rights can again be revealed, shared, and reflected upon to ultimately reaffirm that human rights is not the cause of the chasm – it is the bridge that unites.

Each letter is accompanied not just by an artistic interpretation of the featured word but also the artist’s reflection on what is currently happening in society. See the reflection on “children” or their absence in now-deserted playgrounds above.

The image above is created by Daniel Palma Tayona, my dear friend who passed away. Had he been alive, he would probably at the forefront, leading the many artists who have come together to paint murals around the country in support of a leadership that values transparency and accountability and fundamental human rights.

The image above is especially fitting, given how Marcos Jr. is now running for Presidency. It is not surprising that historical revisionism is now rampant with Martial Law wrongly depicted as an idyllic time of peace and prosperity, something which was also featured in this book.

What is even more amazing is that all these books are freely available. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, you can have access to these gorgeous titles through CANVAS.Ph’s official website. Note that this book was published at a critical time in Duterte’s administration when any dissenter may be “red-tagged” or perceived as a government destabilizer. Hence, the fact that this book exists is a testament to the moral courage of the book creators and the indomitable Filipino spirit. Padayon!

#DecolonizeBookshelves2022 Update: 40-41 out of target 100

May 9, 2022 at 06:30AM Myra Garces-Bacsal